Thursday, June 30, 2005

Alfred the OK

Having read Alfie's comment here how could I do anything but add him to my blogroll!?!

Who is playing the immigration card now?

Are Labour exploiting fears of too many illegal immigrants when they link estimates of 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK to the need for ID cards? How can Immigration Minister Tony McNulty dismiss the estimate as being "impossible to quantify" and then use the same figure to justify an unpopular policy?

In April, the then Immigration Minister Des Brown was saying "Until we change the system of checking people in and out of the country... we will not be able to give appropriate and accurate estimates". He meant to say "Until we win the election... we will not be able to give appropriate and accurate estimates" as I am not aware the system has changed so.

Traffic congestion is good for your health

Transport authorities will no doubt seize on the news that road traffic deaths are at an historic low to justify their increasing reliance on speed cameras. Is this deserved? Speed cameras no doubt reduce average speeds in their immediate vicinity but I suspect there are two other factors at play. Improved car designs increase your crash survivability whilst increased traffic congestion, in city centres and motorways, leads to fewer crashes at high speed as you get fewer chances to speed!!

There are some people alive today who would be dead but for traffic congestion. Who says traffic congestion is only ever bad for you?

Are more deaths the cost of free flowing traffic?

School's out

How can social mobility possibly increase when schools in Inner London turn out students with "raw" social skills, unable to write letters or do basic sums? One employer even has to test to confirm knowledge of the alphabet? What have these students learnt in eleven years at school? Labour should be ashamed such pupils are condemned to a life of relative poverty.

Employers are potentially the ultimate consumer of quality education. They require good numerate and literate employees to earn money. Their complaints need to be addressed as they are free of the educational bias of so many other commentators.

PS Good to see the Department for Education and Skills spokesman admitting weaknesses in the current grading system, "We are toughening the GCSE so that in future no-one will be able to get a higher grade in English or maths without mastering the basics." So there has been grade inflation in the past!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Passport control

To combat the estimated 75% of passport fraud that involves first time adult applicants, the Home Office is to introduce face to face interviews for new passport applicants from 2006. This is welcome news for such an important document although I expect it to be self-funding and not too cumbersome.

Will a similar scheme be used to reduce future ID card fraud as they are issued or will the authorities still rely on postal applications? Are the costs of such a scheme included in the current £95 unit cost or would they be extra?

If there are weaknesses in passport issuance, how can they be relied upon as proof of identity when applying for ID cards!?!

House of ID Cards

Despite Charles Clarke's best efforts, I remain unconvinced that the benefits of introducing ID cards will ever outweigh their costs. If anything, the case against ID cards strengthens over time.

My only hope for today's second reading is that Conservatives see reason and vote against, Liberal Democrats have no diary clashes today, turn up and vote against whilst I expect Scottish Labour MPs to reflect the views of their Scottish Parliament and either vote against the Government or abstain.

Labour should remember they stand on very weak constitutional ground, they have no popular mandate in England. They won England thanks to an archaic electoral system not reflecting current demographics rather than offering the electorate the most popular manifesto. Labour polled 60,000 less votes than the Conservatives in England.

How do they reconcile this with introducing such controversial legislation? When will the house of cards collapse?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Nursing the nurses

Nursing staff took an average of 16.8 days off work each last year due to sickness. Even amongst public sector workers, that's a lot, other public sector groups were sick for 'only' 11.3 days on average. Naturally, unions blame it on stress and low pay, I suspect it's more likely to be management's inability to manage nursing staff effectively.

The Royal Mail recently solved a similar sickness problem by introducing a lottery scheme to improve attendance, should the NHS consider a similar scheme? Unfortunately, it's quite likely that nurses recognise that their employers are in a weaker position than the Royal Mail. Requiring years of training and with demand outstripping supply, employers are loathe to sack nurses who abuse the system as they are so difficult to replace. Sick leave has become an unofficial perk of the job.

I always understood that nurses' exposure to disease and illness in hospitals strengthened their immune systems rather than weakened them!!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Living in a meritocracy?

"And the new establishment is not a meritocracy, but a power elite of money-shifters, middle men and speculators...people whose self interest will always come before the national or the public interest." Tony Blair - Labour Party Conference 1994.

British diplomats help Tony Blair's eldest son, Euan, obtain work in Washington DC as a Republican intern, 2005.

Rewarding failure and dishonesty

Cabinet ministers are entitled to one quarter of their £74,902 salaries when they leave office even if they return a couple of months later in another role. Liberal Democrat front bencher Norman Baker is right to describe this as "grotesque". When the scheme was introduced in 1991, losing your cabinet position marked the end of your political career, it's now just an accepted part of many political careers. What's worse is that ministers forced to resign due to scandal or general incompetence are rewarded for failure and dishonesty!

  • David Blunkett resigned over his nanny's visa application yet is now Work and Pensions Minister
  • Beverly Hughes resigned after admitting she "unwittingly" misled people about a suspected visa scam.
  • Estelle Morris resigned for not being up to the job.
  • Peter Mandelson resigned for having made misleading statements over passport applications of Indian Billionaires.
  • Saturday, June 25, 2005

    Criminal Anxiety

    A former Hell's Angel who shot a policeman during a raid on an Off-Licence has been awarded £7,000 in costs and compensation for the "anxiety" caused by a 22 month delay in his prison status review. Poor little thing.

    What about the anxiety of the shop staff who were raided or the shot policeman? Can this NHS patient claim for the anxiety of having to wait 18 months for an MRI brain scan?

    Thursday, June 23, 2005


    Norwich Castle Museum has abandoned plans to fly a monochrome Union Flag as staff felt it may offend "veterans who fought and died in the war". Good. Naturally, the artist, Jonathan Parsons, has condemned the move as a "kind of censorship" but it's a refreshing change to remember the forgotten majority in the UK who are often too polite to complain when their heritage is attacked.

    How else do you explain banning cars with Union Jacks in college car parks courtesy of Free Market Fairy Tales and Laban Tall?

    Three cheers for ID cards!!

    One of the main reasons given for introducing National Identity cards is to reduce identity theft. How would ID cards prevent the bank account details of 1,000 customers being stolen by an Indian call centre worker? The details included account holders' secret passwords, addresses, phone numbers, passport details and presumably ID card data had this occurred beyond 2014.

    If your bank account is drained of cash following such a fraud, how do you prove it was the bank's fault and not your personal negligence?

    Wednesday, June 22, 2005

    This Septic Isle

    Welsh students are to pay £1,800 less than English students attending the same Welsh Universities in the latest addition to a growing list of anti-English discrimination across the UK. Scotland already offers free residential care whilst cheaper Welsh prescriptions will soon be "Welsh Only" to prevent English cross-border Health Tourism.

    Can the English expect lower tax rates to compensate for this? I'm not aware of any discounts for being English in England.

    Cheap Royals

    The BBC cheerfully points out that the Royal Family cost £36.7m last year, or 61p per head of population. If the £1.9bn overpayment of tax credits is calculated on the same basis, it cost £31.58 per head of population.

    The Royal Family are loose change in comparison.

    Dippy £30k

    It cost £30,000 to change the name of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to the Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry (DPEI) before changing it back a week later.

    Should I be angry at this waste of money or surprised that Government can change it's mind so quickly?

    Public sector fat cats

    As income and council tax bills increase year on year, it's warming to know that pay for top civil servants increased by a healthy 9.5% last year. Clearly not all increases in public sector spending seem to be getting through to the "front line". Would these executives have worked "as hard" if their pay rises had been limited to 4.5%? This would saving taxpayers money in the short term and reduce final salary pension payments in the long term.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    Priced off

    Anticipating that road users will be priced off congested rush hour roads as they inconveniently travel to work and onto trains, the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) believes future rail users should be priced off congested peak railways and onto congested rush hour roads as they inconveniently travel to work. Is this joined up Government or a concerted effort to ensure as many people as possible give up work and claim benefits?

    What's the point of working a 45 hour week including commute when you will take home just 45% of your gross pay after deducting higher taxes, National Insurance and higher work related travel costs when you can relax in the sun all day receiving benefits worth 'just' 30% of your original pay!?!

    I doubt many people 'enjoy' their rush hour work commutes but Government should thank them for subsidising the profligate Government spending beast and work with Atoc to expand capacity rather than chastise commuters further.

    Juries out

    The Government is to announce proposals to abandon the long established English legal principle of trial by jury in "burdensome" fraud cases. Given the collapse of high profile fraud cases such as the Jubilee line fraud before reaching a verdict, it does seem sensible that the prosecution should be able to apply for long or complex fraud cases to be heard without a jury. Currently, it appears that if alleged fraudsters make their scheme sufficiently complex, they will not be convicted as juries will be baffled by the complexities of the case.

    My main concern is whether other complex but non-fraud related trials will eventually become juryless too. Terrorist trials in Northern Ireland are already carried out without juries to prevent intimidation. Whether further creep would be a good thing too, the jury's out.

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    Spend, spend, spend

    How can Labour claim effective management of the economy when Government borrowing reached £8.7bn in May, the highest figure since records began in 1993? Our position is far weaker now than in 1993 as Britain is no longer coming out of a recession but possibly facing a new global downturn. Remedial actions to weather the storm will be severely hampered by Gordon's spending largesse. Wise counsel would suggest curtailing further spending plans, however, Labour's addiction to headline grabbing initiatives suggests otherwise.

    Gordon apparently only has two options, raise taxes or break his 'golden rule'. Why hasn't he got a third option of reducing public spending? It's a shame David Blunkett cannot make government savings compulsory.

    Use the forced savings, David

    David Blunkett really can't help himself. Why break a nut with a nutcracker when a sledgehammer will do? Faced with a growing pensions crisis, the only possible solution for David is compulsory savings. How would it work? Will they have a sliding scale for savings? Will you be fined if you don't save enough? Will your taxes go down in recognition that you will not receive a state pension when you retire?

    It would be more sensible for David to stop the means-tested benefits of pensions. People would then face the radical approach of being rewarded for saving for their retirement rather than being penalised as they are with the current system.

    I still struggle with being forced to buy an annuity with 75% of my pension pot. If I die just two years later, the pension provider keeps the remaining funds rather than my heirs!! What sort of an investment is that!?!

    Sunday, June 19, 2005

    The very model of a modern Labour minister

    Honourable Fiend highlights a great Gilbert & Sullivan spoof on the proposed introduction of National Identity cards here. A broadband connection and soundcard are highly recommended!!

    Not your money to spend

    The Government not supported by 78% of the registered electorate is now considering further restrictions on how you spend your money. They are looking at ways of preventing city dwellers from buying second homes in rural villages. Whilst acknowledging the impact this must have on certain villages, Government should not be allowed to legislate on an entirely legitimate means of spending your own money.

    Will potential second home owners be fined or imprisoned for buying a second house? Will villagers be banned from owning flats or houses in the City? No doubt ministers will be exempt from the proposed legislation, it would be unfair to expect them to choose between their constituency home or their London pad.

    NHS money back guarantee

    Should a woman be allowed a tax refund if Central Government does not provide the services paid for through her taxes? Following a car accident in February, a woman was told that she would need to wait 18 months to have an MRI brain scan at King's College Hospital, London. However, if she was prepared to pay £983, she could have the same scan done at the same hospital within the next two weeks. There is a case for this money being refunded through her taxes!! How else do you force Central Government to focus on improving customer service?

    With record levels of NHS funding, how can hospitals still be running short of cash to fund brain scans? I certainly would not wish an eighteen month brain scan delay on anyone.

    Friday, June 17, 2005

    Labour is working

    Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride has attacked the "stupid" and "ill informed" Work and Pensions minister, Margaret Hodge, for suggesting that some Rover workers might find new jobs at Tesco. Car building skills are only valuable if companies and ultimately customers pay for them. Rover cars were not valued.

    Ex-Rover employees now have some difficult choices to make, find new well paid engineering jobs in the West Midlands or change jobs and industry sector entirely with a consequent drop in pay. A Tescos job should be seen as just one of the many options available to the ex-employees. Julie Kirkbride should welcome this.

    A flexible labour economy requires future employees to adjust their skills to match employers' labour requirements. Britain should not expect thousands of ex-Rover employees to just keep their existing skills for nostalgic reasons.

    Thursday, June 16, 2005

    To the lifeboats

    Why does Government need to ban unauthorised protests within half a mile of the Houses of Parliament? Do MPs really feel so threatened by us, the electorate? They have nothing to fear as they can already escape.

    Following the destruction of the original buildings in the fire of 1834, a Royal Commission decided that the Houses of Parliament should be rebuilt on the same site by the River Thames as MPs could escape down the river if Parliament was ever surrounded by the mob. Whilst surrounding three sides of Parliament, MPs reasoned protestors would never be able to block the Thames.

    MPs feared for their lives even in the 1830s.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    Live 8 Corporate Hospitality

    How does Bob Geldof sleep at night!?!

    Gold circle ticket to Live 8, just £1,250 + VAT including backstage pass!!

    UK Unemployment continues to rise and fall

    Confused? It depends how you 'spin' the story. The Blair Broadcasting Corporation proudly trumpets "UK unemployment continues to fall" on the Government's "preferred" ILO measurement of unemployment by 15,000 to 1.4 million between February and April. The headline could also have been "UK unemployment continues to rise" as the unemployment claimant count rose for the fourth month in a row to 855,300 in May. The BBC helpfully points this out just two sentences later in the same report.

    Either way, more unemployment benefit is being paid now than in February, March or April 2005.

    Bob Geldof, Prime Minister

    Is Bob Geldof the real Prime Minister? He berated Gordon Brown for earning £500,000 in VAT on Live 8 and got a refund. He has now attacked eBay and succeeded in stopping any further auctions of Live 8 tickets even though it is not illegal to resell charity concert tickets. Who elected Bob Geldof? Who gave him so much power?

    Tuesday, June 14, 2005

    Bob Gobsmacked

    Bob Geldof has lambasted people prepared to auction their Live 8 tickets on eBay, "The people who are selling these tickets on websites are miserable wretches who are capitalising on people's misery. I am appealing to their sense of decency to stop this disgusting greed." Welcome to the real world Bob, unlike you, some people value £1,000 more than a couple of hours at a televised concert.

    Bob's "disgust" is a direct result of Live 8's method of allocating the tickets in the first place. Rather than allocating the tickets through the price mechanism or (cough) an auction, they tried to maximise overall revenue by running a lottery. A secondary market was bound to flourish when there were two million entries chasing just seventy-five thousand tickets. Some people will be prepared to pay far more than £1.50 to attend Live 8.

    I suspect Bob's anger also masks some bitterness that each Live 8 ticket has raised only £40. He is happy to gamble on people's misery, just not profit from it!!

    Free the Jackson One

    Whether the Jackson verdict becomes as notorious over time as the OJ Simpson trial is a discussion for other more informed blogs than here. However, following the Michael Jackson verdict, I'm just pleased I didn't invest in 10,000 "Free the Jackson One" T-shirts. How would I sell those now!?!

    Meanwhile, the BBC insulted a significant minority of their loyal viewers this morning when they summed up Michael Jackson as a "white" male, twice divorced 46 year old, living on his own who likes pornography...

    Standing alone as Europe burns

    "In Brussels, Britain has sounded neo-Thatcherite as though nothing has changed from the 1980s." says European Commissioner Peter Mandelson. Is this an insult to Margaret Thatcher or a compliment to Tony Blair!?!. It sounds like the latter. "Both tone and substance now need to change if the British Government is to command attention and win the backing it seeks on the continent." Why do we need to win European backing when they want more of our money!?! Britain should not be afraid to stand alone in Europe, it wouldn't be the the first time.

    Monday, June 13, 2005


    Schooldays may have been the worst days of your life, but how about adding schoolevenings and schoolmornings? Ruth Kelly has announced that school hours could be extended to 8am to 6pm to take the pressure of "hard working families". Rather than asking parents to contribute the £680m, it falls on the general taxpayer to fund Labour's great scheme. Why? If it benefits parents, they should expect to pay. Why should everyone else contribute to the scheme? If parents needed this service and sufficiently valued it, private companies would already be operating in the market.

    It can only be a matter of time before Ruth Kelly decides that children stay at school at nights because they are in a controlled environment there. If the "school run" is brought forward to 8am, I may contribute to the scheme!!

    Saturday, June 11, 2005

    A dangerous world

    Soldiers carrying a wounded comrade to safety amidst the mud and filth of the First World War.

    I wonder what they would think about carrying an injured woman 200 yards across a meadow?

    Thursday, June 09, 2005

    Political Hatred Bill

    Controversial plans to outlaw political hatred have been announced by the Government. It follows intense vilification of the political classes and Tony Blair in particular during the 2005 General election. "We just can't go on with this level of hatred, it has to stop" said a top Government spokesman. The Bill will ban insulting words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up hatred of the political class. Critics argue that the Bill will curtail free speech but ministers have pledged the new law will not affect "criticism, commentary or ridicule of politics".

    The bill will apply to comments made in public, in the media or on blogs.

    Too open prison?

    It took nearly a week for prison staff to notice that an inmate had absconded from Sudbury Prison in Derbyshire!! I assume most staff were too busy surfing the internet to look up and notice.

    How can any prison set themselves a target of having "only" seven escapes a month!?! Is their target to notice escapees within the first 24hrs?

    NTL Customer service

    Ashley Gibbins, a taxi driver from Cleveland, managed to leave an answerphone message on NTL's phone system, "Hello, you are through to NTL customer services, We don’t give a f*** about you, basically, and we are not going to handle any of your complaints. Just f*** off and leave us alone. Get a life."

    What was NTL's reaction? Did they complain the message was libellous? As NTL knew they would never win such a case, all they could do was complain about the offensive message.

    Hopefully NTL will act on the best customer feedback ever received and improve their customer service levels accordingly.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    Respect your knifeless, imitation gunless teenage troublemaker.

    The "Violent Crime Disorder Bill" has been announced today, it's goal is to improve 'respect'. Imitation gun and knife sales will be banned to under 18s, good to see the Government closing down a loophole where 16 year olds can ask older friends to buy them. Welcoming the ban on imitation guns, Chief Superintendent Paul Robinson, head of Scotland Yard's special firearms operational command unit, said: "It is often almost impossible to tell the difference between a real gun and a replica" or a table leg apparently.

    Schools will be given new powers to search pupils for weapons. Why doesn't school discipline prevent pupils carrying weapons in the first place? Did it breach their rights?

    I'm afraid the new 'Alcohol Disorder Zones' suggests disorder will be tolerated here just like sex is tolerated in 'Red Light Zones'!!

    Dropouts wanted

    Bournemouth and Poole college are offering iPods and £100 to unemployed teenagers when they complete a 14 week course in "Life and and job skills". The scheme will cost taxpayers, hopefully only those in Dorset, £870,000!! If these teenagers cannot be motivated to improve their lot in life without such incentives in the first place, why should these incentives work? How long before there is a trhiving second hand market in Bournemouth and Poole for iPods? Cutting their benefits would encourage them to find jobs in the first place and save taxpayers' money. I always dislike such schemes anyway because they are a "kick in the teeth" to other teenagers who have tried to improve their futures.

    Why does a course take 14 weeks to show teenagers how to apply for jobs, give them interview tips and show them how to write CVs? I could show them in a couple of hours!!

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    In defence of the EU

    Jack Straw's defence of the European Union on Radio 4 this morning was quite depressing.

  • The EU has led to increased prosperity and jobs across Europe. Do the French, Germans or Italians currently agree with that statement? A free trade area would have been as effective. We can thank the United States for their injection of Marshall Aid in the wake of World War 2 for kickstarting Europe's recovery. Stalin rejected Marshall Aid for the countries Russia "liberated".

  • The European Union has ensured peace across Europe. NATO, another ruinous European War, limited German "punishment", a common Soviet threat and American support clearly played no role in fifty years of peace.

  • What's left? For just £12bn per year we get unrestricted travel across Europe and UK citizens can now live in Spain or France!! Maybe the EU should include the United States so UK citizens could live there too!!

  • Jack even tacitly admitted that the EU currently has too much power, saying that the EU constitution proposed giving more powers back to the local ie Nation states.
  • Cherie Blair flies in for speaking engagement

    Cherie Blair has arrived in Washington for a £30,000 speaking engagement as "The first lady of Downing Street". She was accompanied by her husband Tony, who will be meeting President Bush in her absence. Fears that their next child may be called "Washington" were quashed due to Tony's bad back.

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    Poor Barristers

    Think of some low paid professions performing important functions for society; scientists, teachers, nurses and ... barristers!! With hourly charges for defending legal aid cases frozen for the last eight years. Barristers are struggling to survive on rates of just £33.50 for juniors, £47 for leading juniors and £62.50 for QCs. No wonder they are threatening to strike (by refusing new cases) for more money. How can anyone afford to pay for flexible childcare with rates that low!?!

    If their monopoly on court representation was broken, I would have some sympathy for their claim, as it is, it should be struck out. It will be interesting to see the Government's reaction to their threat considering the legal background of so many in Government.

    Sex offender in hostel, not prison

    A "dangerous and violent" sex offender has absconded from his bail hostel in West Yorkshire. If he was such a threat to the public, why wasn't he already in prison? Which committee made this decision? Were they protecting his rights or ours?

    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    Bible bashers

    Hospitals in Leicester are considering removing Gideon's Bibles from hospital wards because they might "offend non Christians" and be "a source of MRSA infection". Members of the "Infection control team" and "Service equality panel" are being consulted to decide what action to take. So we may know by Christmas 2006..

    Has the hospital had many complaints from non-Christians about Bible provision on the wards or are they offended on their behalf? Will the "Infection control team" also be banning magazines with non-wipeable covers or childrens' toys that are presumably not steam cleaned each day? Readers Digest and National Geographic will need to find new subscribers!!

    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    South East England Regional Assembly Democracy

    The Times reports that "HOUSEHOLDERS in the South East have rejected plans to build 640,000 new homes in the region over the next 20 years." However, this is based on just 60,000 replies to a survey sent to 3 million households across the South East on behalf of an unelected body.

    I received the survey and having read it, binned it as most of the questions and multiple choice answers were outrageously biased. The survey also didn't have a freepost address for the replies, so they didn't want that many replies either!!

    Not so fast Sailor

    A sailor clocked doing 156mph on his 750cc motorbike has been disqualified for just 56 days, fined £175 mph with £35 costs!! It seems a ridiculously low penalty when you consider the speeds involved and the danger he represented to other road users.

    The 56 day ban is pointless as he is at sea anyway!!

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    Once more

    Blimpish and Non-trivial Solutions have set up a new group blog, Oncemore. "A group of British political bloggers determined to carve out a bigger online presence for the Conservative Party".

    There are some great site contributors, and erm, me!! I hope you can support the site and can contribute to the discussions. I wish my new colleagues every success in our venture.

    Gravy train derailed

    A gravy train was derailed in Holland yesterday. The 'EU Constitution' was half way through it's whistlestop tour of Europe when it happened. Retired Train guard Neil Kinnock (still on the payroll) blamed the crash on the ignorant Dutch, "They removed all the track. We couldn't do anything about it. We just didn't stand a chance. When will these damn people realise trains need tracks to run properly, not the peoples' support?". Dutch Police are still investigating how so much track was removed so quickly.

    Thankfully, there have been no fatalities but many egos have been bruised, some critically. As they surveyed the sorry scene, locals celebrated. Initially, it was thought the steam train could be repaired, but it now appears a write off. The driver and passengers are still expected to try and complete their journey but in an anonymous coach to avoid any further conflict with the people.

    UK referendum in 2006?

    Neil Kinnock declares that the 'No' votes in France and Holland are "a triumph of ignorance", the EU constitution is dead and no UK referendum is therefore required. I am one of the ignorant masses in the UK who wants to have a referendum next year even if answering the wrong question! Once again, France determines Europe's future on it's own terms. If anything, Chirac's EU negotiating position has now been strenghtened by the French 'No' vote. How can Chirac accept any "Anglo-Saxon, Atlanticist, Free trade" agenda Tony Blair proposes? "French voters won't accept that". That such an agenda would improve the French economy is just a delicious irony. Building a benefits wall around Europe's economy will not make it more competitive in the face of new global economic challenges. A UK referendum would trump the French 'No' whilst giving the UK population a chance to be heard across Europe.

    The UK last had the opportunity to have it's say specifically thirty years ago when the nation was asked if it wanted to remain in the Common Market. The European Union has now morphed into a quasi-state in it's own right. As a referendum was already timetabled for sometime in 2006, it should go ahead but with a different question. Does the UK electorate accept the transformation? Has it gone too far or not far enough? Should the UK remain in the EU? Denying the UK this chance on the grounds of saving money, a referendum is pointless or that politicians know best is an abuse of due political process. 67% of the Dutch electorate are not ignorant!!

    More civil servants needed?

    HM Revenue and Customs have confirmed that £1.9bn of the £13.5bn paid out in Gordon's child and working tax credit scheme was overpaid to 1.9m claimants last year. A lucky few received overpayments of £5,000!! With £1 in every £6 being paid incorrectly, the Government appears to have two choices. Employ more civil servants to reduce overpayments by increasing the bureaucracy, slowing the payment process down and capping the individual total benefit available or scrap the whole scheme and administer the benefit (if required) in a different way.

    As the benefit is for working parents, I would prefer the personal allowance to be increased as it is equitable, removes the bureaucractic costs of administering the scheme and reduces the benefits trap. The only downside is that Gordon will no longer appear to be rewarding "hard working families" but rewarding everyone who works instead!!

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Bangers and mashed

    Unison have been quick to exploit how £280m of additional Government funding can help them grow. Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, has announced there can be "no excuses" for serving poor quality school meals at a Unison organised conference. Helpfully, Christian McAnea, Unison's head of education services, points out that school meals can only be improved by "Increasing the hours they [staff] work and employing more people." Presumably, newly qualified staff need new pay bands too.

    Why it will take the new School Food Trust £60m to ban fast food and discover that private sector catering contracts are watertight is beyond me.

    Pampered Prisoners

    Life inside prison continues to get worse for the inmates. How can a hardened criminal possibly look 'tough' following an aromatherapy session? I can't decide if such treatments will be a punishment or a luxury!! What is not in doubt is that such facilities should not be available. Prisons are not hotels.